Forests are crucial in sustaining the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people globally, and particularly of Indigenous and local communities with historic ties to forested areas. 

Between 200 and 350 million people live within or adjacent to forested areas around the world, relying on the various ecosystem services provided by forest and forest species for their livelihoods and to cover their most basic needs, including food, shelter, energy and medicines.

Indigenous peoples and local communities are at the forefront of the symbiotic relationship between humans and forest. Roughly 28% of the world’s land surface is currently managed by indigenous peoples, including some of the most ecologically intact forests on the planet. These spaces are not only central to their economic and personal well-being, but also to their cultural identities.

What are ecosystem services?

Ecosystem services are the multitude of benefits that nature provides to society and that make human life possible. Despite an estimated value of $125 trillion, these assets are not adequately accounted for in political and economic policy, which means there is insufficient investment in their protection and management.

Ecosystems provide four types of services to the world:
Provisioning Services are the material benefits people get, for example supply of food, water, fibers, wood and fuels.
Regulating Services are the benefits obtained from the regulation of ecosystem processes e.g. the regulation of air quality and soil fertility, control of floods or crop pollination.
Supporting Services are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services, for example by providing plants and animals with living spaces, allowing for diversity of species, and maintaining genetic diversity.
Cultural Services are non-material benefits people gain, such as aesthetic and engineering inspiration, cultural identity and spiritual well-being.

Forests and poverty reduction 

Human populations tend to be low in areas of low- and middle-income countries with high forest cover and high forest biodiversity, but poverty rates in these areas tend to be high (figure above). FAO estimated that 252 million people living in forests and savannahs have incomes of less than USD 1.25 per day.

Overall, about 63% of these rural poor live in Africa, 34% live in Asia and 3% live in Latin America. The 8 million forest-dependent poor in Latin America represent about 82% of the region’s rural extreme poor.

Globally, of the people living in extreme poverty, over 90% are dependent on forests for at least part of their livelihoods. Therefore, understanding the relationship between poverty and forest landscapes is key to guiding global efforts to combat poverty and conserve biodiversity.

Written by: Laura Persavalli


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